Water for Elephants

I’m enjoying a few days on the East Coast with my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth as she gets a final look at one of the colleges she’s considering attending in the fall.

After making a campus visit and touring surrounding towns on Friday, we somehow managed to stumble onto an AMC movie theater just as “Water for Elephants” was about to begin.

“Water for Elephants” is a PG-13 movie about life in a traveling circus during the Depression era. Think prohibition. Riding the rails. And an era not yet enlightened on issues like animal and domestic abuse.

Lizabeth agreed, after we’d watched the credits roll, that posting a review as soon as possible was a good idea — because parents need to know that this movie isn’t meant for kids.

Plenty of parents make a habit of taking children to see PG-13 movies. Perhaps they think mature themes and language will go right over their child’s head. And, in some cases, they may be right.

But animal abuse like that depicted in “Water for Elephants” is something you don’t want your child or pre-teen to see. And the images of domestic violence in this movie are equally inappropriate for kids.

“Water for Elephants” shares a moving story, first told in book form (by author Sara Gruen), of a man trained in veterinary medicine who ends up traveling with the circus after losing both parents in a car crash. Your kids don’t need to see the morgue scene either.

So snag a babysitter or save this movie for an outing with your teen. Lizabeth and I agree that “Water for Elephants” is an excellent film. It’s certainly one of the best directed films I’ve seen in some time (it’s directed by Frances Laurence), and the cinematography is captivating. We also enjoyed the sets, costumes, music and acting performances all around.

It was a treat to finally see Robert Pattinson (“Jacob”) of “Twilight” fame without all that sparkle vampires must endure in the sunlight. But Reese Witherspoon (“Marlena”), known to many for playing “Elle” in the “Legally Blonde” films, delivers the better performance here.

And it’s Christoph Waltz — who portrays the circus master driven by desperation, excess and narcissism — who brings the most depth to the story. Waltz’ performance is engaging at every turn, as his “August” puts profit over people and baits the mere boy who dares to delight his wife.

Hal Holbrook opens and closes the tale as “Old Jacob” — recounting his life before and after his Benzini Brothers days — with a gift for storytelling that’s beautiful and rare. And a number of actors with smaller roles feel equally indispensible to moving the story forward in colorful ways.

“Water for Elephants” is storytelling at its best. I’ll be looking for it next time nominations for film awards are rolled out — and not just because I want to see an elephant walk the red carpet.

— Lynn

Note: Learn more about circus arts by visiting the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin (which was involved in the making of “Water for Elephants”).

Coming up: Finding art in New Jersey

Update: “Water for Elephants” author Sara Gruen appears at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe Thurs, May 5, at 7pm for a Reading, Q & A and Booksigning. Event is free with purchase of Gruen’s new book titled “Ape House,” but space is limited. Learn more at www.changinghands.com.

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3 responses to “Water for Elephants

  1. Interesting. Was considering watching this movie with family, but might have to choose something different. I don’t know if I can handle graphic abuse of any sort on screen. I thought this was a mellow travel romance!

    • The film shows blood and bruises–and how they got there. It’s tamer than some crime shows aired during primetime, but I’m not a fan of those for children either. I’d love to know what you think if you get a chance to see it. I just want to be sure parents don’t go expecting a happy circus adventure full of clowns antics. It gets a bit gritty and gory at times.

  2. reece and pattinson gave terrific performances, in fact they all did and the directing was great. not as much violence in water for elephants that you see in other movies but why not take the kids to see thor or fast five. no violence in those movies………… just good clean fun.

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